Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Accumulating Knowledge across Self-Studies in Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Accumulating Knowledge across Self-Studies in Teacher Education

Article excerpt


From 1999 to 2004, I participated in a panel organized by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) that was charged with synthesizing empirical research on preservice teacher education in the United States and with drawing some conclusions about what is known and not known about selected key issues of interest to practitioners, policy makers, and researchers. (1) One of the major problems that we had as a committee during the 5 years of our work was to be able to look across individual research studies and to understand how each individual study was connected to and added to the contributions of studies that had been done previously on the same issues. Much of the empirical research on preservice teacher education in the United States has consisted of small-scale studies in individual teacher education classrooms and programs that are, for a variety of reasons, very difficult to connect to other research.

One problem in being able to make connections across studies has been the inconsistent way in which researchers have defined concepts that they have studied such as professional development schools, action research, teaching portfolios, and so on. All of these practices have multiple meanings and are used for different purposes within and across teacher education institutions (see Zeichner, 2006). From a teacher education design perspective and a policy perspective, it is not very helpful to have a series of studies on how a teacher education concept or practice such as professional development schools influences teacher learning and practice if there is a lack of consistency in what is meant by a professional development school or other practices and concepts being studied (Zeichner, in press). In addition to the different definitions of key concepts and practices that are the focus of research, researchers have commonly used different research instruments and methods to describe and assess concepts with the same names often providing little or no information about the reliability and validity of the research tools and about their methods of data collection and analysis. Also, although self-study researchers usually provide a clear description of the teacher education classrooms that are the setting for the research (this is not often true for other kinds of teacher education research), they often do not locate the research within program, institutional, and policy contexts.

Finally, very few of the studies in teacher education that we examined in the AERA project were situated as part of programs of research on particular issues or problems where researchers consciously build on the work of others and establish chains of inquiry (Shulman, 2004). Although there is clear evidence in many self-studies in teacher education that the teacher educators who conducted them benefited from the research experience in a personal way and became better teacher educators as a result, there has been little attention to how we can begin to accumulate knowledge across these individual studies in a way that will influence policy makers and other teacher education practitioners.


In this article, I examine the issue of whether there should be an effort with regard to self-study research in teacher education to incorporate elements into the research to make it easier to accumulate knowledge across individual studies and if so, how this could be accomplished. (2) There is a point of view that attempting to synthesize the findings of self-studies as is commonly done with other kinds of research is not appropriate and will somehow destroy the integrity of self-study research or indicate a surrender to dominant "modernist" forms of research in education that do not consider self-study as legitimate research. (3) There are very few examples where self-studies about particular topics in teacher education have been incorporated in a natural way into research syntheses in the broader teacher education literature (Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2004; Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005) or where a set of self-studies about particular issues have been reviewed (e. …

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